Connecticut River Academy’s First Graduation a Family Affair

The 28 students who made up the first graduating class of the Connecticut River Academy endured plenty of changes and transitions during their time on campus.

Taylor Wiggins of Windsor flashes a smile as she prepares to graduate from the Connecticut River Academy.

Taylor Wiggins of Windsor flashes a smile as she prepares to graduate from the Connecticut River Academy.

As evident at their graduation ceremony held Monday, the students are emerging from their experiences bonded as a family.

“We knew things might not go as planned, but we never gave up,” said graduate Ebony Kelly of East Hartford, Vice President of the Academy’s Class of 2013.

The Academy, which opened on Goodwin College’s River Campus in 2010, celebrated its graduates with an emotional ceremony. Family members filled the Goodwin Auditorium as the students reflected on their time at the Academy, as well as what lies ahead for them.

Many of the students were sophomores when the school opened,

Austin Shelton of Tolland shakes hands with Connecticut River Academy Principal Linda Dodona.

Austin Shelton of Tolland shakes hands with Connecticut River Academy Principal Linda Dodona.

taking the chance at attending a brand new school that would be unlike any they had previously experienced. Principal Linda Dadona quoted Martin Luther King, reiterating something she told the students on their first day of Orientation in the summer of 2010.

“He said, ‘faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,’” Dadona said. “In August of 2010, we did not have a staircase, but you had faith in us.”

Goodwin College opened the Academy to ninth and tenth graders, drawing from school districts throughout the state. It was the College’s first magnet school, and while construction is ongoing rapidly on a permanent Connecticut River Academy, both the building and the concept were a work in progress.

Goodwin President Mark Scheinberg told the grads that their friendships will carry them far.

“There’s magic in the people sitting around you that will last your entire lifetime,” Scheinberg said.

Ebony Kelly of East Hartford and Ashley Bracken of Windsor Locks await the start of Commencement.

Ebony Kelly of East Hartford and Ashley Bracken of Windsor Locks await the start of Commencement.

The Academy has a curriculum centered on environmental science, utilizing its namesake river as a resource as well as the College itself. More than half of the grads took Goodwin courses, earning transferable college credits. Some even qualified for the Goodwin Dean’s and President’s Lists or had their work published in College media, such as The Beacon, the Goodwin literary magazine.

Enrollment at the Academy is climbing steadily, and once the school moves to its home further down Riverside Drive, up to 480 students may attend. The first class, however, was a very small one, which the students found to be a real blessing.

“Never forget that you have a bunch of people by your side who want to see you soar some more, including your classmates,” said Class President Kristen Alvarez, of Hartford.

Since the entire class was like an extended family, Alvarez shared her good wishes and memories of each of her classmates, individually reflecting on their talents and aspirations. She saved some strong praise for her mother, Alvarez’s “Superwoman,” for the sacrifices she made to help her daughter succeed.

“Look Mom, we did it,” Alvarez said. “Not just me, you made it, because we did this together.”

All the graduates are seeking further education or training upon leaving the Academy. Goodwin Board of Trustees Chair Maria Ellis also sent them on their way with the full blessing of the College.

“Anything you need going forward, you’re always part of the Goodwin family,” Ellis said.

Commencement Speaker Calvin Terrell, of Phoenix, Ariz., encourages the grads to be "peaceful warriors."

Commencement Speaker Calvin Terrell, of Phoenix, Ariz., encourages the grads to be “peaceful warriors.”

Commencement speaker Calvin Terrell previously worked with the Academy students and developed friendships with the grads and the faculty alike. Though based in Phoenix, he travels the country speaking to schools and inspiring learners of all ages to overcome educational inequality.

Terrell urged the students to be “instruments of peace,” to be steadfast, and to confront the challenges that generations past may have avoided or sidestepped.

“I look forward to seeing you on the path as peaceful warriors,” Terrell said.

Dadona told her grads that they had helped shape the future of the Connecticut River Academy and she wished them the best as they make the best of their own journeys.

“In the end, the Connecticut River Academy is what it is because of you,” Dadona said. “We must acknowledge that publicly tonight and say thank you. Thank you for having faith in us. Thank you for sharing the last three years with us.”

To see more photos, check out our Flickr album.

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Posted on June 18, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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